Impassioned business owners from Naples made the trip to Augusta Monday for a meeting to discuss the bridge project proposed for the causeway.

Some said they were concerned the state had decided to build a fixed-span bridge, but those in attendance learned that the bridge type is not determined and construction is not planned this year.

A group of about 20 people, including town officials and those who work in the causeway area, met for a two hours with Commissioner David Cole of the Maine Department of Transportation, as well other state employees working for the department bridge program.

The group has formed the Committee to Preserve Long Lake, in response to efforts by the state to build a fixed span bridge on the Naples Causeway, to replace the current swing bridge.

State officials met with town officials, and came to a public hearing in recent months, to discuss the issues a fixed bridge would cause. The proposal is especially unpopular among business owners in the Naples Causeway area, because the bridge will have a clearance of just 12 feet, making passage under the bridge impossible for bigger boats.

But the state has said rebuilding a new swing bridge is too costly, considering the number of bridges throughout the state that need repair.

Dan Allen, who owns Causeway Marina, said he went into the meeting feeling as though the state was only trying to appease him and others, but left with the feeling that the commissioner and others who are handling the project genuinely considered what the group had to say.

Peter Marucci, owner of Colonial Mast Campground, agreed that the state was receptive to concerns about the fix bridge, which would limit passage between Long Lake and Brandy Pond to smaller boats. For instance, the well-known Songo River Queen II excursion boat would not clear the proposed bridge. But Marucci also said he understands the state’s position.

“Commissioner Cole has a budget to stay within, and the state, as everybody knows, has no money,” said Marucci.

But Marucci said he could not get past the historic character that the channel under a moveable bridge represents to the people of Naples. He said he does not believe Naples should have to downgrade to a fixed bridge.

“We get the feeling that the state is thinking we’re asking for something better. All we want is to replace what is there,” said Marucci.

One topic discussed at Monday’s meeting was the legality of limiting the free passage between Long Lake and Brandy Pond.

In 1832, the Cumberland-Oxford Canal was opened to connect Lakes Region waters to the Portland seaport. The canal was open until the 1870s.

Under the U.S. Navigable Waters Act, bodies of water that are, or ever were connected to the ocean are protected, so that passage between them remains open.

However, Jay Clement, a senior project manager at the Army Corps of Engineers, said bodies of water that qualify are specifically named and protected by the Congress, and Lakes Region waters are not on that list.

The Kennebec River, Penobscot River, Lake Umbagog in western Maine, and all tidal waters are protected under the law, said Clement. And though it may seem that Long Lake and Brandy Pond should be protected, since they meet the same standards as those Congress protects, it would literally take an act of Congress to add Naples waters to the list.

“I don’t know how long it would take to get Congress to recognize Long Lake an Brandy Pond, or if other efforts to do the same have been successful. Certainly, that’s their prerogative if they choose to do that,” said Clement.

Clement added the case may be that the state has never attempted to limit passage between Long Lake and Brandy Pond, deeming protection by Congress unnecessary.

Cole said he thought Monday’s meeting gave Naples business owners the chance to voice concerns, which he said he appreciates and is sharing with bridge program staff.

But it is unclear whether the meeting will affect the final outcome of the project.

“A moveable bridge is a tough proposition for us…I wouldn’t say it is unlikely, but I would say it is a major challenge to find additional money,” said Cole.

Cole did say that rumors that the state had made the decision to go ahead with a fixed bridge, and that the job was out to bid, are false. In fact, construction will not happen this summer, as originally planned, and Cole said his department would have to be “very diligent” to begin construction even next summer. The next step on the state’s side will be an economic impact study.

“I think taking a step back will allow us to assess what role this bridge on the causeway will play,” said Cole.

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